The Hong Kong International Film Festival has announced the cancelation of its world premiere screening of crime thriller “Where the Wind Blows.” The move appears to be part of the accelerating ‘mainlandization’ of Hong Kong’s entertainment industry.
The festival said Monday evening in a statement that screenings of “Where the Wind Blows” (previously known “Theory of Ambitions”) had been cancelled at the request of the film’s owner.
“Upon request from the film owner, the screenings of ‘Where the Winds Blows’ originally scheduled at 5.30 p.m. on 1 April and 2.30 p.m. on 4 April are cancelled due to technical reasons,” the festival said in a statement in English and Chinese.
The film was produced by Hong Kong’s Mei Ah Film Production in a co-venture with mainland Chinese firms Dadi Century and Global Group. Its production budget has been reported as $38 million.
The film is directed by Philip Yung, who made the acclaimed “Port of Call,” and stars Tony Leung Chiu-wai (“In the Mood for Love”) and superstar singer-actor Aaron Kwok (“Monkey King,” “Cold War”). Kwok was additionally named as the festival’s goodwill ambassador.
Rooted in the long-established vein of Hong Kong crime films, “Where the Wind Blows” “depicts the friendship and rivalry between two ambitious detectives who form dangerous alliances with organized crime,” according to the HKIFF catalog. The IMDd synopsis describes it slightly differently: “A corrupt police sergeant’s career is curtailed by the launch of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.”
“Technical reasons” is widely understood in mainland China as a euphemism for censorship. It was the phrase used for the abrupt cancelation of Zhang Yimou’s “One Second” at the 2019 Berlin film festival and for the last-minute halt of “The Eight Hundred” which had been set as the opening film at the Shanghai festival later the same year.
Portraying corruption on screen has previously been difficult for filmmakers on the mainland. In contrast, Hong Kong filmmakers, including Johnny To, Andrew Lau, Longman Leung, Felix Chong and Alan Mak, have reveled in dramatic and exciting portrayals of crime, corruption and abuse of power.
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper had reported that Mei Ah previously aimed to release the film at the end of 2018. But it was then thwarted by the mainland’s National Radio and Television Administration because the film dealt with police corruption and Triad organized crime gangs.
What makes the latest case harder and more perplexing is that “Where the Wind Blows” is set in the 1960s and the period of British colonial rule; nor have Hong Kong films previously followed mainland edicts within Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, specifies that the Special Administrative Region has the ability to set its own policies on matters such as culture, education and technical standards. Hong Kong has never previously applied the mainland Chinese system of movie censorship, and instead operates the kind of ratings or classification system that is widely used in western democracies.
However, since Beijing’s injection of the National Security Law into Hong Kong law and the shutdown of the pro-democracy camp’s ability to act as legislators, the entertainment, arts and media sectors have increasingly become the focus of scrutiny.
Award-winning pro-democracy documentary film “Behind the Red Brick Wall” was pulled from cinemas earlier this month before it could get a commercial screening. Hong Kong broadcasters have followed the example of mainland media and ditched their plans to screen the Oscars ceremony, where another democracy movement film “Do Not Split” has been nominated in the short documentary category. And public broadcaster RTHK has been repeatedly sanctioned over matters such as satirizing the police and its investigative journalism techniques. In recent weeks, pro-Beijing lawmakers have asked for artworks by exiled Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to be removed from the new M+ Museum at the West Kowloon Cultural Centre.
The 45th edition of HKIFF is scheduled to run April 1-12, 2021.